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Member Volunteer Work

We are immensely proud of our members who have dedicated not only their careers to the profession but also their valuable spare time to partake in our projects over the years and start their own. Our members up and down the country and across the seas are living embodiments of our ethos. In the UK their collective voluntary work in the health sector has pioneered aromatherapy in the NHS. Without the efforts of our members, aromatherapy would not be as accepted as it is today. It is also important to note that all trustees of the IFA past and present are volunteers who have worked tirelessly on behalf of us all and whose collective efforts has ensured the stability and growth of our organisation.

Below is a selection of members' individual charitable work:

Read about Diane Savage's (MIFA) work with the Lincolnshire Hospice, UK

In 2003 I approached a local day hospice in my nearest town in the hope that they would be interested in allowing me to volunteer as an aromatherapist. I very promptly received a phone call from the nurse manager who was very keen to meet with me to discuss my suitability.

I had done my research and was aware that this Lincolnshire Hospice supported patients and their families in many ways, one way being a range of complementary therapies including aromatherapy massage. I met with the nurse manager who looked at my CV and interviewed me.

This day hospice in my town had a warm and welcoming team of staff who clearly offered the comfort that the day patients needed. Many patients attended not just for the camaraderie and contact with others who understood what they were facing, but also for the practical support, treatments, counseling and social activities on offer.

There was a dedicated treatment room where many practitioners worked offering at that time aromatherapy, reflexology, indian head massage and reiki.

The nurse manager explained that no patient would receive aromatherapy without the approval of their consultant. A thorough assessment would be made by the nurse manager to ensure that there were no contra-indications to treatment and the patient would sign a consent form prior to treatment. Whilst discussing the gentle massage strokes I would be offering she explained that certain areas would need to be avoided (cancer sites, areas of skin cancer, areas receiving radiotherapy) and that some patients may have an initial fear of being touched. We discussed the essential oil blends I would be using (a 1% blend of a combination of the following) if appropriate to the patient:

  • Frankincense: - may help with the fear of the unknown and emotional exhaustion; can slow down and deepen the breath producing a feeling of calm; can help with respiratory congestion.
  • Neroli : – may help those suffering from shock or panic attacks; can have anti -depressant effects; can act as a natural tranquillizer; often described as being able to reach deep down into the soul.
  • Rose Otto: - may have anti-depressant effects; sometimes described as being a tonic to the heart and refreshing to the soul; may soothe feelings such as anger, fear and anxiety; a harmonizing oil which can make sorrow easier.

Working in palliative care was a completely new experience for me but I had massaged many relatives who were close to death and found it comforted them and seemed to enhance their emotional wellbeing. The involvement of the consultant and nurse manager was reassuring and helped to counteract any initial concerns I had. The nurse manager made it clear that I needed to prepare myself for the death of patients and to remember that a patient may deteriorate after treatment but that it was important that I didn’t feel it was necessarily to do with my intervention. She said I needed to ensure that I didn’t have unrealistic expectations of my treatment and to be aware that there may be days when a patient just can’t face the treatment and not to take it personally.

I was very honest with myself before approaching the hospice in the first place and was sure that I would be able to cope with this type of role.

By far the most important part of my role as a volunteer aromatherapist was building trust. It was important to sit and chat with the day patients while they had refreshments both before and after the treatments. I attended a morning or afternoon each week and was informed by the nurse manager who was suitable for treatment depending on their physical needs and mood on that day. I saw mostly women (just one man) although the men were happy to experience a hand massage in the lounge. The sessions were short, on average 15/20 minutes in duration. The shoulders, face and scalp, arms and lower legs were the areas most requested by those patients who did see me. Sometimes patients didn’t have the energy to undress or make their way to the aromatherapy room so I would offer hand and foot massages in the lounge instead.

The patients unanimously liked the smell of the blends – I was very careful not to assume that they would, as I was aware of the sensitivity of chemotherapy patients to smell. Occasionally they requested carrier oil only. Generally patients described symptoms of fatigue, nausea and pain.

The feedback I had was that the massage promoted a sense of calmness and comfort. They felt a release of tension when the massage started. They said it was so nice to have positive touch rather than a medical procedure of poking and prodding. They also felt it was comforting to have their body touched as their body image had been compromised due to the condition and the consequent treatment. One patient said it was empowering to have choices again (rather than the treatment being directed by someone else, e.g. consultant). Most of the patients wanted to chat during the session but one or two did try to find a stillness in their minds. On a couple of occasions when we went back down to the communal lounge, after the treatment, patients fell asleep in the chair.

I would say by far the most important part of my role was developing relationships with patients so that they felt comfortable, safe and knew that they could trust me. I spent a few minutes in the car before entering the hospice grounding myself (with the help of Neroli) so that I had positive energy that I could transfer to the day patients . I also had to protect myself for those days when a candle was lit for someone who had died. This was not easy and took some adjusting to. On these days it was important to help the other patients deal with their sorrow and their own fears by simply listening, allowing for quiet reflection, or offering some kind of reassurance through the use of two very powerful tools – the essential oils and the power of touch.

Read about Susan Fujimoto's (MIFA) work to help Tsunami victims, Japan

In September 2011, IFA therapists headed by Susan Fujimoto went to Otsuchi, Japan to bring much needed relief to those affected by the Tsunami. The Otsuchi NPO office was responsible for the coordination of residents at eleven different locations in makeshift houses. As therapy couches were not available, they improvised by using Japanese-style mattresses placed on the floor for Leg/Back/Arm/dry hand and head massages. Advice was given to people living in cramped conditions; leading sedentary life-styles, the possible physical problems that may arise from blood circulatory, lymphatic, immune and nervous disorders, and how to take preventative measures. In six days a total of 132 treatments were given with ages ranging from 26 to 92 rewarding for all concerned.

Read about Tomoko Bendzel's (MIFA) work in Shinai Hospital, Japan

During my recent visit to Japan I had the opportunity to see Shinai hospital where IFA post graduate therapists were working with cancer patients. The programme was introduced by Tomoko Bendzel to Dr Kuwana (head of hospital) who was very keen, to use aromatherapy within the hospital environment.

We have five therapists involved with the scheme Noriko Mogi, Sachiko Yashio, Mitsuro Kawashima, Yuko Kameyama and Emiko Saito all giving treatments on a weekly sessions basis. Continuity is essential for patients and some of the therapists have worked in the unit for over 2 years. As each floor of the hospital is associated with various illnesses Strokes, Alzheimer, Cancer and Palliative Care the therapist can gain experience dealing with a variety of diseases, and each can learn at their own pace, like a stepping stone process. A small room has been allocated to the therapists, and this enables them to network between lunch break and pass over information from one therapist to another.

Dr Kuwnana kindly let us visit the palliative care ward while our therapists were giving treatment. The atmosphere was very warm and caring and the ambience within the restrooms and lounge area was a pleasure to view. Our therapist were giving 20-30 minute sessions but extra time was given if the patient was anxious and needed further care.

We meet various patients, ages ranged from 45 to 81, men and women they were receiving hands, leg and feet massages. One lady knew about aromatherapy before being omitted into the hospital and loved the smell of Lavender and was really enjoying the treatment. Another gentleman was only having his legs massaged as injections had been recently given in his arms, his choice of oils were Lavender and Orange. An old lady aged 76 year who had liver cancer, had her son visiting and he said his mother’s face always looked in pain but when she had a treatment she looked so peaceful.

The volunteer programme was very well organised there were listening and reading volunteers, all were coming and going while we where present. Music therapy was used and the patients were regularly visited by hairdressers and having beauty treatments, manicure and pedicure, showing complete client care.

To see such a well run aromatherapy care programme, put in place in Japan, by one of our schools was

inspirational , reminding us why we choose this profession. We do make a difference!!!!.

By Pauline Allen, IFA CEO

Read about Susan Mousley's (MIFA) work at the George Elliot Hospital

Since its inception in 2010 Sue has set up and headed Oasis Relaxation Services as a volunteer team leader at the George Eliot Hospital, which is free for patients and staff experiencing anxiety and stress. It also has a community group for patients with dementia and their carers. The team offer aromatherapy hand massages, breathing and relaxation techniques and guided visualisation to give the client tools to help them be proactive in self-care. Oasis is supported by the hospital management, everything else is self-funded with fundraising activities and donations, this has included local team events and Sue doing four half marathons.

For a full report visit http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/1868

Read about Susan Mousley's (MIFA) work and the Well to Excel NHS Campaign

In June 2013, Sue Mousley, as a Royal College of Midwives Workplace Representative helped organise an event which combined the celebration of the 65th Anniversary of the NHS and the NHS’s latest campaign of staff wellbeing. The day was entitled ‘Well to Excel’ meaning if staff were healthy and well they would excel at patient care. The day had two main components, the first being the outside area which encompassed everything from the 1940’s era. Staff dressing in uniform with a tea party, accompanied by ration books and old pennies. In the inside area there were therapists and public health stands offering advice in complementary therapies. In the aromatherapy area Sue gave advice on Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies and information about the IFA and gave seated acupressure massages.

Read about Carina Coen’s (MIFA) work with the Whale and Dolphin Charity (WDC)

The Whale and Dolphin Charity (WDC) communicate to the Cosmetics Beauty and Holistic Industry about the use of Spermaceti used in skincare products. Many of the general public are unaware of ingredients that go into the production of cosmetics and that sperm whales are killed in the process to get this yellow wax used in making products. Carina Coen went to meet Mr.Eduardo Quesada, President of IJEC (International Jojoba Export Council) on behalf of the IFA and wrote a full review in the Aromatherapy Times magazine.The meeting was held to help raise awareness of jojoba as an alternative to cosmetic products that contain whale derivatives. The WDC and IJEC have joined in a historic collaboration to make the Cosmetic Industry and consumers aware of the healthy eco alternative Jojoba oil instead of the use of spermaceti. Please also the website of Eco Oil Argentina, which has information about the partnership between WDC and the International Jojoba Export Council.

Read about Kim Wooldridge's (MIFA) work during 9/11

When an email from United Aromatherapy Effort was forwarded to the IFAroma e-group concerning the voluntary work of a team of aromatherapists in America, I didn’t think there was much I could do. The letter was very moving, describing the horrors of 11 September- “the emotional anguish involved in cleaning up the devastation”, “the physical insults to their bodies” and worst of all, “dealing with the horrific smell of death” .

Sylla Sheppard-Hanger, founder and director of the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy (Florida), who was unable to give blood because she is a cancer survivor, decided to help her long-time friend Doug e.Rasmusson who she knew would be going. Doug who is the Atlantic Institute of Aromatherapy’s Principal Tutor, was moved to form a team of massage therapists after the Oklahoma bombing of 1995, and is now leader of Carolina’s Emergency Response Massage Team (CERMT), known as ‘Kermit’. Doug also worked on the North Carolina floods after hurricane Floyd and was flown by government helicopter to co-ordinate the efforts of hundreds of volunteer massage therapists working on the rescue workers.

Physical and Psychological Benefits
The team’s aim is “to provide massage and aromatherapy for all rescue workers” and the appeal that came through via Gabriel’s e-mail was for this work to be carried out on the New York rescue workers. They offer a 10-15 minute chair massage to anyone that needs it, and find it helps people to ‘open up more’ as well as relieve muscular tension. The newly formed United Aromatherapy Effort team can now provide aromatherapy during the massages. There are other massage groups, but this is the first aromatherapy team.

To get back to the e-mail letter. Doug and Sylla were appealing for volunteers, as well as funds, oils and other aromatherapy materials to take to New York. I thought I would probably send a cheque, and that would be my small contribution to something that shocked the world with its sheer horror and devastation. I am sure that, like me, we have all felt helpless, wanting to do something to help the people of New York and Washington. I read reports of people in London hugging American tourists shortly after 11 September, just to let them know that we were all there for them at that horrific time.

Positive thinking
I didn’t think about the e-mail for another couple of days - it was something I was going to deal with eventually. Then a friend of mine, Lynne, who is also a massage therapist, came to visit so I thought I would show her the e-mail. She looked at me after reading it, and said that we should go! That was it, we both felt why shouldn’t we volunteer? We immediately e-mailed Sylla, who responded straightaway in her upbeat enthusiastic way that is so infectious. She wasn’t expecting volunteers from Britain, and she was thrilled. This now meant we were committed. Lynne and I would see what we could do to get ourselves sponsorship for our flight and accommodation.

We were offered discount flight tickets from Virgin Atlantic, to travel on 2 January 2002. Body Shop offered a box of oil, and the IFA insurance company Blackmores sponsored me for the extra insurance I needed for the states. We had been on a local radio station, as well as in a couple of newspapers.

Plans for a UK Team
Lynne and I have also made a major decision while being involved with this work. We want to come back to Britain ‘armed with our experience’ and set about forming a similar Emergency Response Massage Team for our own rescue workers after major disasters in this country. We know a few people in the emergency services, firemen, police as well as military personnel who have all experienced traumas such as train disasters, motorway pile-ups, even war, and all have welcomed the idea of a team of people who could help them deal with such horrific events.

I have also written to the Police Federation, and they featured my article in their Police magazine. I suggested the idea of an Emergency Response team in the UK to Doug and Sylla, and they both offered to come to the UK to help with a training programme for volunteers. In addition, while in New York, Sylla and Doug met two detectives from Northamptonshire who helped the effort for Britain’s own team.

I would like to end this article with an extract from Sylla’s e-mail after her visit to New York in November. It’s a very moving and vivid personal impression of the atmosphere, the horror, the tragedy and the heroism of those dreadful days in 9/11. Sylla wrote:

“ What an incredibly trip - I bet we touched over 350 people: firefighters, police, rescue workers and those giving assistance to victims, and gave out $5000 worth of supplies.

“ At night we worked at the Medical examiner’s office, where they bring in the bodies or parts…That was an experience, working in the Salvation Army chapel on members of the New York police department and others there. My only (knock on wood) ride in the back of police car! We debriefed nightly across from the hotel in mid-town Manhattan at the wonderful Irish pub BB Doyles- THAT was wonderful. By the end of week we took a chair in and gave them all a short massage - they loved it, and it was our relaxation nightly debriefing and we met some great folks there.

“Ground zero is a very toxic place; soon as subway doors open – blocks away, you can smell it (awful plastic burning chemical smell, and something else, nothing like I have ever smelled) and then once up in the air there’s a hazy mist all around. They have narrowed the perimeter so you can get a block away from the ‘pile’ – throngs of people walking by , looking, feeling, being there…almost like a toxic tourist trap (I hated seeing babies and kids without masks…). We sprayed our masks but our lungs still burned, and I’m still coughing. The huge cathedral of St Peters wasn’t touched, yet was immediately next to the towers, the chunk s are still on the columns and they are leaving it there as a memorial- lots of flowers, flags, etc out front. A touching place.

“The fire station near our hotel called the Pride of Manhattan, lost all 17 members on duty that day, and it’s a shrine too, covered in black cloth, flowers, pictures from kids cover the walls. We worked on the guys there – they were from the Brooklyn station, filling in for the unit who have to attend the memorial services for the lost ones.

“These guys have not stopped for two months – until now. The Fire Marshal of Brooklyn came to meet us one night in the pub, took off three hours to come over- said it was first time he’d sat in bar in two months. Hearing their stories was incredible - many of them just needed to talk, they are just now starting to deal with it, so I’m glad we can help. They are just now starting to deal with it, so I’m glad we can help. The next month through the holidays is going to be especially tough, as they now are back to duty since Ground zero is a construction site, and the heavy picking through is done at the Staten Island landfill. They have begun to grieve.

“One of the highlights of our adventure was meeting two Northamptonshire detectives over for the English families of victims – they were really cool guys, gave us patches and a plaque of their badge for CERMT. Through our connections we will help set up ab team over there for them and their families – the process has already started, so anyone in England wishing to participate there contact me and I will forward the contact info.

“Our hotel neighbours included 100 firefighters from Vancouver – here to give $600,000 they raised (they all took out loans) to give to the families of firefighters- they are very tight group and taught us some code words they use. They are sending numbers through December, attending funerals and ceremonies showing up in numbers to give the New York guys breaks. I have an entire new appreciation of our heroes the firefighters, never realising what an awesome team they are, and how they feel the losses of any of their brothers, anywhere.

“NY has a really different feeling to me – everyone smiles more than before, they are helpful to strangers (maybe it was those chairs on our backs they felt sorry!) and they are so grateful for all the help now. They may have been tough in the beginning, but they are now welcoming any help, visitors, etc. They are hurting though they hardly show it. Really it was an incredible feeling. Our team was tight, we all had our jobs and did them as if we’d practised!

“Anyway, I’m home, exhausted with the World Trade Centre cough (where’s my oregano!), but exhilarated and really proud of the work we did. I really look forward (and so do they) to going back to be there for them for the holidays and to support NYC.”

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